Monday, April 13, 2020
Today You Will Be With Me in Paradise

"To be with Christ is life, and where Christ is, there is His kingdom" (St. Augustine)

The Good Thief

Traditionally known as St. Dismas, the Good Thief, who died on the Cross alongside our Lord is mentioned in only the Gospel according to St. Luke. While all four Gospels reference thieves also crucified along with our Lord (Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27–28,32, Luke 23:33, John 19:18), only the Gospel of St. Luke mentions the Good Thief. 

The Gospel of St. Matthew and St. Mark reference that the thieves reviled our Lord. Only St. Luke mentions the conversion of St. Dismas:
And one of those robbers who were hanged, blasphemed him, saying: If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art condemned under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done no evil. And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom. And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise.
Faith Alone? Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

This account is not an endorsement of the false doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Catholics know that we are saved by God's good grace alone. We receive grace in our souls at Baptism when original sin is removed from our souls and we become justified and receive the Holy Ghost. We only lose God's grace by committing a mortal sin. Mortal sin is possible through sins of word, deed, thought, or omission. Failing to help someone in need, admonish a sinner, attend Mass, etc could all be mortal sins. It is not works that save a man. And it is not faith alone either. Grace alone saves a man.

How was St. Dismas justified without the Sacrament of Baptism? First, our Lord had not yet been resurrected. It was not until right before our Lord's Ascension that the law of Baptism became necessary. On this point, the Catechism of the Council of Trent states:
“Holy writers are unanimous in saying that after the Resurrection of our Lord, when He gave to His Apostles the command to go and teach all nations: baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, the law of Baptism became obligatory on all who were to be saved.”
Yet secondly, we are also wise to remember the three forms of Baptism: Water, Blood, and Desire. We ordinarily think of Baptism as the Sacrament of Baptism which consists of the proper words said while a person is submerged or sprinkled three times with water. But, Baptism of Blood and Baptism of Desire are both equally valid. If someone dies as a martyr for the Faith who had not yet received the Sacrament of Baptism, that person has still received God's grace through their martyrdom, which is a Baptism of Blood. And likewise, a catechumen who desires conversion who dies before receiving the actual Sacrament of Baptism with water still receives justification through Baptism. In such a way, we see in St. Dismas the effect of Baptism of Desire. We see in the record of saints from the early Church many martyrs and catechumens who are listed in the catalog of saints who never received Baptism by water. Yet, they are justified still through these other forms of Baptism.

St. Dismas teaches us the importance of interior conversion and how God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but He Himself is not bound by His sacraments.

Today You Will Be With Me in Paradise

When our Lord told St. Dismas, as they both hung dying on the Cross, "Today You Will Be With Me in Paradise," what did the Lord mean? Did He mean that after they died both would be reunited in Heaven?

No. Heaven at that moment was not opened due to the sin of Adam and Eve which closed Heaven. Christ did not yet pay the price for sin to open Heaven. In fact, the opening of Heaven did not occur until Ascension Day, forty days after our Lord's Resurrection, when Christ the Victor over death led the souls of the just who died beforehand into Heaven after Him. It was fitting that Our Lord, the conqueror of death, would be the first to open the gates of Heaven.

To be with Christ is to be in paradise. Christ and the blessed saints in Limbo including the Good Thief entered Heaven 40 days later when Our Lord ascended and opened the doors of Heaven. Today both would die as their bodies and souls would separate. St. Dismas' soul would go to the Limbo of the Fathers. This place, where the just from the Old Testament waited for Heaven to be opened, welcomed Christ in their midst today. Adam, Eve, Moses, Ezekiel, St. Joseph, and countless others today saw our Lord come to them. The messiah, who some had waited thousands of year for, was at last here. And St. Dismas joined them.
The words of The Lord (This day ... in paradise) must therefore be understood not of an earthly or corporeal paradise, but of that spiritual paradise in which all may be, said to be, who are in the enjoyment of the divine glory. Hence to place, the thief went up with Christ to heaven, that he might be with Christ, as it was said to him: "Thou shalt be with Me in Paradise"; but as to reward, he was in Paradise, for he there tasted and enjoyed the divinity of Christ, together with the other saints. (The Life of The Good Thief, Msgr. Gaume, Loreto Publications, 1868).
On the evening of Good Friday, our Lord descended unto the dead. Christ was in their midst. And to be with Christ is paradise. And that is what we learn from these words of our Lord.

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